Public Accounts Committee Report

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th January 2001.

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Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Liberal Democrat, Newbury 12:00 am, 15th January 2001

When he plans to respond to the 45th report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 1999–2000, HC975. [143725]

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

We will respond to that report shortly.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Liberal Democrat, Newbury

The Ministry keeps saying that it cannot overturn the findings of the air inquiry because no new evidence has been produced. Will the Minister confirm that no new evidence emerged between the original finding by Wing Commander Pulford that the pilots were in no way to be criticised and the final finding by Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten that the pilots were to blame?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

That point has been made several times and it demonstrates a misunderstanding of the engagement of the Air Marshals. The initial process aimed to establish fact and the final process aimed fully to evaluate it. We have said a number of times to hon. Members and others that if new evidence emerges we will examine it. A member of the other place has submitted a dossier, which we are fully evaluating. We are also considering the Public Accounts Committee report. We will respond to both in due course, and if no new evidence emerges we will stand by our previous decision.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Why do not Ministers say to the head of the air inquiry and the RAF, "Thank you for your detailed work, which we appreciate, but we want to make a political decision that the situation subsequent to the inquiry, in which guilt does not have to be found, should apply and the pilots in this case absolved of blame"?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

It would be quite inappropriate to make a "political decision" in a matter that is for the judgment of those with professional expertise. They have made their best judgment of the circumstances. That is what we pay them for, and that is what we expect them to do as part of their duty. If subsequent evidence invalidates that judgment, there will of course be grounds for reopening the inquiry, but until that happens there are no grounds for doing so.